The Irish Government announced on Wednesday 3rd December that they have decided to request the European Court of Human Rights to re-open the Ireland v UK case (1971-1978). Their decision was prompted by the grave revelations, exposed in the ‘The Torture Files’ by the RTE Investigations Unit that drew on material unearthed in the British National Archives. In the ‘The Torture Files’, the RTE Investigations Unit argued that new evidence could justify a re-visiting of the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the Ireland v United Kingdom case. The programme was broadcast on RTE on Wednesday 4th June 2014. It led to calls from Amnesty International and the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams to request the ECHR to re-open the case. Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director Patrick Corrigan described the evidence that the British Government misled the European Commission and Court of Human Rights during the proceedings as ‘deeply worrying’. The revelations in the Torture Files were discussed in an earlier blog post.
Since the broadcast,the RTE Investigations Unit was asked to hand over its research for the broadcast to the Law firm for the ‘Hooded Men’ and to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs. This was to form the critical mass of research for the Irish Government’s consideration of whether to request the ECHR to re-open the case and reconsider its decision on article 3 and the five techniques. It primarily consisted of research collected from the British Archives. The timeline for this request to the ECHR ran out on Thursday 4th December. In advance of the deadline, the legal representatives of the ‘Hooded Men’ submitted an application to the Irish High Court to compel the Irish Government to make a decision. However, on Wednesday 3rd December, the Irish Government submitted that they would request to re-open the case. Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan stated in a press release:
‘The Government is aware of the suffering of the individual men and of their families, of the significance of this case, and of the weight of these allegations. The archival material which underlay the RTÉ documentary was therefore taken very seriously by the Government and was subject to thorough legal analysis and advice. On the basis of the new material uncovered, it will be contended that the ill-treatment suffered by the Hooded Men should be recognised as torture. The Government’s decision was not taken lightly. As EU partners, UK and Ireland have worked together to promote human rights in many fora and during the original case, the UK did not contest before the European Court of Human Rights that a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human rights took place. The British and Irish Governments have both worked hard to build stronger more trusting relations in recent years and I believe that this relationship will now stand to us as we work through the serious matters raised by these cases which have come to light in recent months’.
Amnesty International called this ‘a triumph of justice after more than 40 years of waiting’.
Dr Aisling O’Sullivan is Lecturer in law at Sussex Law School. Dr O’Sullivan was project researcher with Professor Schabas, who was the Principal Investigator, on a project funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences entitled ‘Ireland’s Participation in International Human Rights Law and Institutions’. The research included an investigation of Irish and British National Archives files on the Ireland v UK case. The research, which was undertaken at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, was used by RTE in preparation of ‘The Torture Files’. This contribution is cross posted with permission from the Human Rights Doctorate Blog.